One hundred years ago they came to New York City
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The following narrative is based on different documents from the Congregational Archives; historical documents pertaining to Countess Annie Leary; newspaper articles, maps, and photographs of New York City in the year 1908; assorted information gathered on-line; and the voluminous Présentation Historique de la Société de Marie Réparatrice (1818-1953), by Henri de Gensac S.J. The imagination of the writer fills in the blank spots.
On Wednesday, January 29, 1908 two reparatrixes boarded the SS Cedric in Naples, Italy, en route to New York City. They were MM de Sainte Véronique Giuliani, assistant general, and MM de Saint Matthiew. Both, holding their umbrellas, were dressed in black traveling habits and black gloves. In their trunks, packed by the Assistant of the house of Rome, were a few changes of underwear, stockings, a white habit, an extra guimpe and serre-tête, a pair of espadrilles, the Office Book, a copy of the Constitutions, a bar of soap, bicarbonate of soda and toothbrush, and little more.
As the coast of Italy receded in the distance, memories of previous travels flooded their minds. St Matthiew, née Mary Canny, had left the gentle slopes of her native Ireland some years earlier open to going “wherever the charity of Christ” would call her. As she closed her eyes, she felt again the warm embraces of her family. Ste Véronique Giuliani, née Gwendoline de Raymond, 55 years of age, already had a long history of transcontinental travels. Deep was the memory of the journey to Trichinopoly, India. At only 23 she had sailed off into the storms of bitter discontent and divisions that were battering the congregation in 1876. Still fresh were the places, smells, music, voices and faces that would forever be imprinted on her soul. For almost three years she and 9 other sisters had taught the children at Sainte Anne’s Orphanage; tended the sick in the hospital with the help of some Indian sisters; offered a place of refuge to the widows; taught and administered the school for English and mestizo girls. In the end, she and others were asked to return to Europe. Today she prayed again for God to keep the suffering of those years at heart and make it bloom in blessings for of all those they had had to leave behind!
Now Matthiew and Véronique were on their way to “The New World.” There was great excitement among the people gathered on deck. All around floated conversations in French, Italian, English, Arabic, and other languages the two Reparatrixes had never heard before. Any fears and apprehensions they felt were surpassed as they recalled the passionate words of Mary of Jesus, “…we will devote ourselves with joy to the service of our Lord, crossing the seas to make known to the most distant countries the name of Jesus, his mercy and love”. Sweet peace filled their hearts as again and again each one repeated her own promise of loving service.
Among the passengers was the Archbishop of San Francisco, Monsignor Patrick Riordan. He might have known the Reparatrixes from his many travels to Rome, or even from his time as a student in the American College in Louvain, Belgium. In any case, he was very kind and attentive to them. Adding kindness to kindness, the captain offered them first class cabins despite their second class tickets.
Hopefully our two sisters had good sea-legs and calm stomachs that would allow them to enjoy the eleven days floating between sea and sky. Silent prayer and contemplation of the grandeur of God became the rhythm of their days. There is evidence that their zeal remained very alert even while on board ship. On the second day they were taking a walk on deck when a little girl, full of curiosity, approached them to ask their names, and why were they dressed alike, and what were those beads on their hands, where were they going, and didn’t they have any little children of their own? The child brought them to her parents who shared that she had never had religious instruction. Since that moment the five of them could be seen huddled together while Matthiew and Véronique gently revealed to them the treasures of the tender love of God.
Not a bad beginning to a new reality!
The rest of the story will be shared periodically throughout the year. Concepción González Cánovas, smr.